Lots of Little Things are a Big Deal

For many of us, organic is a big deal. What makes it a big deal are a lot of little things.

That hits home for me when I drop in at a meeting of the USDA’s National Organic Standards Board (NOSB). The NOSB is a citizen panel that was created under the legislation that authorized national organic standards 25 years ago. The 15 volunteers serving on the board represent various segments of the organic community; farmers, retailers, consumers, environmentalists and scientists.

They are meeting in California this week, and no one would ever accuse the process as being secretive. As the board deliberates the issues, roughly 200 stakeholders in the audience follow the discussion. Nearly half of the four-day meeting agenda is devoted to public testimony.

On some matters, the NOSB input to the USDA is simply advisory. On other matters, the USDA is bound to follow the board’s recommendations.

And that’s where the little things come in.

This week, the NOSB is working through a list of 217 materials—substances—that are currently allowed to be used by organic farmers, and by organic food manufacturers. Should organic farmers continue to be allowed to use diatomaceous earth to control insects? Should dried orange pulp continue to be allowed as a food coloring material? These are all items being weighed by these 15 volunteers.

Little things, to be sure. But food is made up of lots of little things. And the work being done by the 15 volunteers meeting in California this week assure that that those little things are compatible with the principals of organic food and farming.

That little round seal on the front label of most organic foods is a little thing, too. What it represents is a very, very big deal.

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